Bad apples as prison guards? They're just doing it by the book
by Ken Wiwa 
Globe and Mail
May 8, 2004

I spent much of last week trying to sift through the frothing, the evasions and hand-wringing over those unsettling images from Iraq, and I've come to this conclusion: Those scenes from the Abu Ghraib prison are the byproducts of a systematic racket designed to protect the American way of life. Oh, and deliver fat profits for fat cats and mad dogs.

Much has been said and written about American values and whether those pictures are representative of a systemic problem. The more I read about this issue, the harder it becomes to distinguish between those values and the system that produced such shocking photos.

At the heart of any value system is invariably a set of rules, of guidelines, a code of conduct, be it the Good Book, the U.S. Constitution or a bill of rights. Contained in these august texts are the articles of faith that define the character of a community and a nation. The soldiers who violated American values were not operating from the guidelines of those principles, but were acting under the influence of another source -- the "Kubark Counterintelligence Interrogation" manual.

The Kubark manual outlines a Cold War-era program designed to extract information from prisoners by breaking them down psychologically. Kubark is the bible of interrogation. Its instructions have allegedly been refined by the CIA and are probably the basis of some of the techniques that have been employed in the gulags of the military-prison complex that America Inc. has erected from Texas to Tikrit.

Now, in keeping with the manuals of journalism, I was going to offer you some quotes from the Kubark manual as an exhibit. But whenever I tried to cut and paste the apposite quotes from the Internet, my computer started to behave rather erratically, like some hidden hand was trying to thwart me. I had to shut everything down and start over. About a minute after I was up and running again, I received an e-mail inquiring whether "you self-righteous Canadians would have anything to write about if not for Americans?"

Now, where was I? Yes, I was introducing this spookery by way of trying to advance my argument that American values are no more than a civilized veneer for the military mindsets that command, control and benefit from the American Empire. Nowhere is the trend clearer than in the use of private armies to do the bidding of American foreign policy.

One of the reasons being advanced for the rise in abuses in American military prisons from Guantanamo to Bagram Air Base and Abu Ghraib is the role that private contractors play in those facilities. The private military companies that provide everything from logistical support to interrogation services for the U.S. military appear to treat international conventions on war with the disregard that comes from knowing they are effectively immune from the censure of international law.

And as America extends the theatre of its war against terrorism around the globe, the U.S. military is increasingly stretched to meet the commitments of its foreign policy. So private military companies are lining up to fill the breach. I understand that there are as many as 15,000 personnel from these companies in Iraq alone. A study by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists revealed that Pentagon records value those contracts at more than $300-billion (U.S.), and that the Defence Department has entered into 3,061 contracts with U.S.-based private military companies since 1994. Private military services are now a $100-billion industry. As the war against terrorism heightens insecurity and escalates threats against American values, it looks as if such companies will be busy for a few years to come. More interestingly, that ICIJ investigation reported that more than 2,700 of those 3,061 Pentagon contracts went to two companies: Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR) and Booz Allen Hamilton. KBR is a subsidiary of the Halliburton Corp., which Vice-President Richard Cheney headed as CEO from 1995 to 1999.

Now, normally I'm not one for conspiracy theories -- but didn't someone once say something to the effect that war is good for business? And whoever coined the phrase about turning tanks into plowshares clearly did not factor in how, at the end of the Cold War, as many as five million soldiers were pushed onto the streets. Many of these soldiers became the mercenaries, the so-called "dogs of war" that form the rank and file in the private military companies doing the dirty work of American policy around the world.

And when fat cats and mad dogs join hands to work under the cloak of American values, you can bet that there will be trouble.

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